Okay, let’s do some DTV math here. If there’s a new Jason Statham movie, I’m probly gonna watch it. If it also has Mickey Rourke, Ray Winstone and Ben Gazzara in the cast I’m even more probly gonna watch it. All of these people do crappy movies sometimes, but they’re actors I like, so with all of them together that adds up to hope.
If 50 Cent is also in there, though, that’s a detracting factor. Not that I think he’ll do that bad of a job, just that he does not have much of a track record for participating in movies that people should spend their time watching. And actually while the presence of Mickey Rourke in a movie can make it interesting or even great, Mickey Rourke + 50 Cent actually reverses Mickey Rourke and turns him into a likely negative. But in this case there is also the Statham/Winstone combo which could easily overpower the force of Rourke/50, especially when you factor in Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon, ’cause he’s in it too.
So I crunched all this data and according to my calculations 50 is not gonna ruin 13. He already did a DTV movie called 12, he probly just stuck around ’til they starting filming 13 and they just let him be in it because he seemed nice and was passing out Vitamin Water to everybody. So they made the movie with him and later I rented it.
But the other thing is it’s a remake of 13 TZAMETI (French for “13 Thirteen”), a movie I didn’t really know anything about but knew everybody said was good. People liked it so much they couldn’t wait to see what that director would do next, provided it was a remake of 13 TZAMETI in English with Jason Statham, Mickey Rourke, Ray Winstone, Ben Gazzara, Michael Shannon and 50 Cent. I don’t usually do this, but I decided to throw caution to the wolves or whatever and watch the remake first.
The movie stars none of those guys I just mentioned. It’s actually Sam Riley, who starred in that movie CONTROL and who looks 3/4 Leonardo Dicaprio, 1/4th James McEvoy. He plays Vince, a meek electrician whose mother has to sell the family home to afford medical bills for dad, who’s laid up in the hospital in a full body cast.
Nobody except dad is really complaining out loud about losing the house. They’re resigned to their fate and willing to make the sacrifice for dad. At least he’s alive, they can be thankful for that. But there’s the obvious, unspoken fact that this is fucked.
So Vince has his ears open when a couple in a house he’s working on talk about something that came in the mail that gives the guy a chance to get a huge pay day for one day’s work. Obviously he could use some mail like that of his own. Then the guy in the house dies of a drug overdose, so our boy takes the letter.
In a way this is kind of the same setup as RED ROCK WEST. We see that he’s a nice, decent, hard working guy, but he’s down on his luck. And there seems to be this opportunity here and the guy it’s meant for is not available so why not take it? He takes the letter and follows the instructions and hopefully he’ll get away with going in this guy’s place.
Hmmm. Maybe should’ve looked into this more. What he’s volunteering for is a way, way underground gambling ring. He’s gonna be in a tournament, basically. If you haven’t heard what the game is that he has to play, my advice is to just rent the original 13 TZAMETI and find out at the same time that he does. But I got a review to write here so I’m gonna explain it.
The contestants are each assigned a number. Vince is #13. They are given a gun and one bullet. The ringmaster/referee guy (Shannon) stands on a ladder instructing them to hold the guns above their heads and spin the chamber. They then point the guns at each other’s heads, like a big organized end-of-RESERVOIR-DOGS. (I believe the person they point their gun at is decided by random drawing). They watch a lightbulb (which for some reason has a spider painted on it) and when the light goes on they pull the trigger. Whoever doesn’t die gets to stick around for the next round.
In between the rounds there’s time for the contestants’ sponsors to place bets and for the contestants to sit and stew and try not to shit their pants. In the second round there are 2 bullets in each chamber, third round 3 bullets, etc. The last guy that survives will get a bunch of money. Hey, thanks for leaving me this great opportunity, dead junkie who needed house repairs.
Winstone plays #6, a crazy player who decides he has a problem with #13. Statham plays #6’s brother, who got him out of the asylum and into this competition. What a great guy. Rourke (with one of those cowboy hats he always wears now) is the only player that seems to be here against his will. He got snatched out of a Mexican prison and forced into this. 50 Cent is his sponsor, working for some mafia or other, and not very friendly to him. These stories come out in brief flashbacks that seem structurally out of place as late as they come in the movie, but they’re okay, they give you a reason to be interested in the fate of a couple other players besides the protagonist.
There are a couple minor details I don’t get about this sport. First of all, why do these guys just wear shitty t-shirts with numbers made out of electrical tape? Isn’t that kinda chintzy? This seems to be a multi-million dollar business, I feel like they could spring for some fuckin uniforms.
Second, aren’t the viewers worried about stray bullets? It seems pretty ballsy to just stand there in the room while this is going on, it’s alot of guns to predict the trajectory of. Or at the very least they oughta be concerned about splatter. You’d think people in the front would have to be planning to get dirty, like at a Gallagher or Gwar concert.
I don’t know man, I don’t mean to be a prude. I know I’m always talking up the early UFC before it was commissioned and had so many rules. But this seems a little too much to me. I’m not sure this is a sport I can really get behind, in my opinion. I personally hope it doesn’t really catch on.
But as a movie gimmick it’s ingenious and sinister. It’s the classic Kumite tournament-to-the-death, two-men-enter-one-man-leaves type deal, except there is no skill involved whatsoever. There is no way our hero can find the misunderstood brilliant master or work hard enough during the training montages or find just the amount of inspiration and eye of the tiger to win or learn a special move that he practices a whole bunch and then you forget about it but in the climax of the final round he finds the perfect opportunity to do it in slow motion. No, there is none of that, there is absolutely nothing he can do to prepare at all.
It’s 100% luck, and the odds are not good. To win this he just has to get really fuckin lucky. And that seems unlikely because the whole reason he got here in the first place was the bad luck that fucked over his family. Also, remember what his number is. Shit.
It’s just so fuckin brutal, but these old rich guys bet on it like it’s horse races. You think they’re cruel to the greyhounds, what about these guys? In one scene a big overweight player (#3 I believe?) is hunched over and he’s sweating up a storm, he’s having a hard time standing up, so his sponsor asks if he can have a chair to sit in. The way he asks it is like “Please, for God’s sake, have some empathy here.” And they give him the chair and it’s like everybody’s proud of the great humanity they’ve shown there, letting the guy sit down before he gets his head blown off for sport. Great job, everybody.
Well, I think you can guess who wins. And then the guy that’s paying for him, Gazzara, talks to him like a proud grandpa. “Well done, young man. Well done,” he says. As if there was anything to do well. And then it becomes a whole new ball game because he actually gets the money, and he realizes he has to somehow get the money to his mother before one of his guys snuffs him, or Statham, or before the cops (who he sees following him) can find the money or prove what he’s been up to.
Well, 13 was good so I had to watch the original, 13 TZAMETI (13 THIRTEEN). It’s a very faithful remake. Some scenes are pretty much word for word (except translated), but some things are added or tweaked. In the original he’s a Georgian immigrant in France, played by the director’s brother. He’s just trying to get money for his family, there is no disaster. He gets involved in pretty much the same way, and has the same rivalry with #6. But there are no flashbacks or explanations of any of the other players. After the tournament, when he’s running from the police and the brother, some of the events are moved around a little, and the remake made it into a little bit more of a close call, I think. But the ending is almost the same.
The better looking movie, without a doubt, is the original. You wouldn’t think so, because it’s lower budget and everything, but the remake is not particularly accomplished visually, and the original has very nice black and white cinematography. That gives it a pretty timeless look. For me anyway it also benefits from not having any recognizable faces in the cast. As much as I like the cast in the remake they create a movie star sized distance between you and the horror of what’s going on. In the original it’s a bunch of guys who don’t really look like actors, speaking a language I don’t understand, pulling me into this mysterious, horrible world.
On the other hand the beauty of the black and white creates a layer of distance itself, turning this dirty, sick place into a pretty art project. And for such a fucked up concept it sure is bloodless. I mean I’m glad the remake didn’t go full-on gory but if they didn’t have blood when they should’ve I sure didn’t notice. In this one I noticed. It kept striking me that a whole bunch of people are getting their heads blown off and we’re not seeing or hearing any blood or brain matter. Makes it kind of antiseptic.
There’s a little moment where #3, the big guy, sits and plays piano between rounds. I don’t remember that being in the remake. It’s a nice touch. He probly took lessons all through childhood, he enjoys the feel of the keys under his fingers, likes impressing people with his skills, maybe making people smile or something. Well, this’ll probly be the last time for that. Might as well take a minute to do this one last time.
One thing I thought was improved in the remake, though, was his motivation for entering. I like that neither one of them puts too fine of a point on his desperation. He keeps it inside. But I think the remake had the more fitting depiction of what would cause that desperation. In the original I think the idea is he’s an immigrant so he doesn’t have alot of money. For an American version it’s very fitting that he needs the money for health care, and for the story it’s fitting that it’s bad luck that pushed him into this competition of luck.
Our boy Fred in the comments recently interviewed Mickey Rourke and he asked him about 13. “It’s a piece of crap,” Mickey told him. “If you don’t believe me, call up Jason and Ray.” Well, I can see why those guys might think that. They’re all playing roles that are smaller and less fleshed out than they usually do. I mean, it’s pretty clear that they’re the names the producers put in there to sell the movie, and they probly added a little bit to their characters to try to justify it. Actually Statham’s role is a pretty good small one, he gets to be kind of ambiguous and a villain even in a character that’s not that different from alot of his heroes. He shouldn’t be mad.
Okay, there was no real reason to remake it, but they did fine with it. I recommend checking out one or more of these 13s.
VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.